Friday, May 20, 2011

W.C. Fields, Part Two

 Much of the analysis I have about WC  Fields is in the first section of this blog (see link above) Here in the second part I want simply to  play a couple of his most popular comic sketches. The quality speaks for itself.

(above ) W.C. in a candid shot at a Hollywood party is joined by another timeless comedian, Groucho Marx (sans his trademark greasepaint mustache. ), likely sometime around 1933-4 when they both were under contract with Paramount Pictures.Whatever they are talking about must have been  funny.

(below) Fields has a cameo role along with several other Paramount comedians (including  George Burns and Gracie Allen) in an early screwball vehicle called 'Six of a Kind" in 1933. 

 Here he plays small town Nevada sheriff named  Honest John.  The material here is based on a portion of a vaudeville routine with a special  pool table that Fields used in his live act.  

Interestingly Fields starred in many silent films although its hard to imagine him without his trademark voice.   His first silent film was a knockabout short called "Pool Sharks" in 1915.  (See the photo at the top of this page.) The film itself is only of interest as a curiosity for the 35 year old Fields is just a wise guy fighting over a girl with another potential suitor and there's  a good deal of trick photography in the pool game scenes. .  There's apparently none of that here.   



Below: W.C. Fields first starring talking feature, 1934's "It's A Gift". This classic bit inspired a lot of comedians, including John Cleese of Monty Python who worked the idea of a set-upon proprietor  into his frustrated English hotelier series "Fawlty Towers". Cleese acknowledged Fields as his favorite sound-era comedian.         



  1. Yet more brilliance from Fields. I had seen the second but the first clip is completely new to me. Thanks for posting.

  2. Thanks for dropping by Jim. Glad I could show you something new and funny from the Canons of William Fields. :-)

  3. Hahahaha, pool, ping pong style, brilliant!

    Oooops, I would imagine a seat belt on that chair would have saved a lot of damage. The wonderful thing is you can see the blind man is going to do a lot of damage. It reminds me of pantamine, "he's behind you....oh no he's not, oh yes he is," hahahahaha.

    He did have a charmed life didn't he, especially as he was deaf and blind.

  4. Thanks for those clips, Doug. Isn't the quality of reproduction amazing?

  5. Indeed it's a little masterpiece of pool and cue shenanighans, Cassandra, capped by a great sight gag. The lady in the first part of the "Honest John" scene was Allison Skipworth, a "funny lady" of the time.

    Yes, I love the fact that the blind man is completely in control of the situation and Fields' hapless character can only cajole him as disaster. This takes the dictum "the customer is always right" to heights of humor and absurdity that I've never seen equalled. (Although "Fawlty Towers" comes close in some episodes.)

    The story behind this is that Fields bet a friend he could create a sketch with a deaf and blind man and make it funny. It's really a small masterpiece. And, yes, Fields caps it wonderfully later on with the impaired man crossing a street in the midst of speeding traffic. I watched "It's A Gift" the other night and I'm even more convinced now its his best work.

  6. You're welcome Cassandra. The digital quality of some of these film clips are almost like watching it in a miniature theater!

  7. The pools scene is wonderful. I enjoyed the part where he tried to control the cue, simple things like that are such fun.

    As the blind man approaches the shop, you know he is trouble. It's a measure of the man that they allowed W C Fields to write his own script.

    Grins, the customer is always right if he is blind and deaf.

    I must watch "It's a gift." I'm hoping it's in my boxed set.

  8. Indeed we've come a long way towards producing a very sharp picture. Not all that long ago, it was like viewing through mist.

  9. Yes, the way he handles the cue when it seems to have a mind of its own and that wonderful voice he has: when he says "At the time of which I speak, I'm tending bar up at Medicine Hat..." I can't help but smile.

    W.C Fields had a keen ear for the American "tall tale" style. he was adept at lampooning the frontier-based dime novelists and music hall/vaudeville "cowboy acts" and Wild West Shows of his youth. Their aim was to write, illustrate or perform exaggerated stories of Western lore for Easterners and were popular anywhere there was a market for Americana, like England or Germany.

    It's a great set-up and it shows the genius of Fields that he has that other man barking at him about cumquats. The studio he was at for years (Paramount) knew he was valuable and fought him a bit when he wanted to go to MGM on a "loan-out" to play Wilkins Micawber in "David Copperfield". Happily, that worked out when Charles Laughton withdrew from the part and a deal was arranged somehow.

    Yes, anyone who has ever worked in a shop or store, especially around holidays (such as Christmas) I'm sure think can relate to the second clip. Fields often insisted on casting minor roles like the shop customers there, and this attention to detail paid off in spades!